May 1942. Countryside in Russia. There is a war with fascist Germany. 171-m railroad departure commanded by the sergeant-general Fedot Evgrafich Vaska. He is thirty-two years old. Education he has only four classes. Vaska was married, but his wife fled with the regimental veterinarian, and his son soon died.
At the crossroads it’s quiet. Soldiers come here, look around, and then start to “drink and walk.” Vaska persistently writes reports, and, in the end, he is sent a platoon of “non-drinking” fighters – girls-zenitchits. At first, the girls chuckle at Vaskov, and he does not know how to deal with them. He commands the first squad of the platoon Rita Osyanin. Rita’s husband died on the second day of the war. Albert’s son, she sent to her parents. Soon Rita got into the regimental anti-aircraft school. With the death of her husband, she learned to hate the Germans “quietly and mercilessly” and was harsh with the girls
from her ward.
The Germans are killing a scaffold, instead of sending Zhenya Komelkov, a slender, red beauty. Before Zhenya’s eyes a year ago, the Germans shot her loved ones. After their death Zhenya crossed the front. She was picked up, defended, “and not just used defenselessness – Colonel Luzhin joined himself.” He was a family man, and the military authorities, having learned about this, the Colonel “took a turn”, and sent Zhenya “into a good team.” In spite of everything, Zhenya is “sociable and mischievous.” Her fate immediately “crosses out Rytin’s exclusivity.” Zhenya and Rita converge, and the latter “thaws.”
When it comes to transferring from the front to the crossroads, Rita is encouraged and asks to send her office. The exit is located not far from the city where her mother and son live. At night secretly Rita runs into the city, wears her own food. One day, returning at dawn, Rita sees two Germans in the forest. She awakens Vascoff. He receives an order from the authorities to “catch” the Germans.
Vaska calculates that the route of the Germans lies on the Kirov Railway. The sergeant decides to go a short way through the marshes to the Sinyukhina ridge stretching between two lakes, along which one can only reach the railway, and wait for the Germans there – they will certainly go by the circumferential route. With him, Vaska takes Rita, Zhenya, Lisa Brickin, Sonya Gurvich and Galya Chetvertak.
Liza from Bryansk, she is the daughter of a forester. She took care of a deadly mother for five years, unable to finish school because of this. The visiting hunter, who had awakened his first love in Liza, promised to help her enter the technical school. But the war began, Lisa got into the anti-aircraft unit. Lise likes Sergeant Major Vaska.
Sonia Gurvich from Minsk. Her father was a district doctor, they had a big and friendly family. She herself studied for a year at Moscow University, knows German. A neighbor in lectures, Sonya’s first love, with whom they spent just one unforgettable evening in the park of culture, volunteered for the front.
Galya Chetvertak grew up in an orphanage. There she was “overtaken” by the first love. After the children’s home Galya got into the library technical school. The war caught her in her third year.
The way to the lake Vop lies across the swamps. Vaska leads the girls on a well-known trail, on both sides of which is a quagmire. The soldiers safely reach the lake and, hiding in the Sinyukhina ridge, wait for the Germans. Those appear on the shore of the lake only the next morning. They are not two, but sixteen. While the Germans have about three hours to go before Vaskov and the girls, the foreman sends Lisa Brickin back to the road – to report on a change in the situation. But Liza, crossing the swamp, stumbles and drowns. Nobody knows about this, and everyone is waiting for help. Until then, the girls decided to deceive the Germans. They depict lumberjacks, shout loudly, Vaskov cuts down the trees.
The Germans go to Legontov Lake, not daring to go along the Sinyukhina ridge, on which, they think, someone is cutting down the forest. Vaska with the girls moves to a new place. At the same place, he left his pouch, and Sonya Gurvich is called to bring it. In a hurry, she comes across two Germans who are killing her. Vaska and Zhenya are killing these Germans. Sonia is buried.
Soon the soldiers see the rest of the Germans approaching them. Hiding behind bushes and boulders, they shoot first, the Germans withdraw, fearing an invisible enemy. Zhenya and Rita accuse Galya of being cowardly, but Vaska defends her and takes her with him to reconnaissance for “educational purposes.” But Vaska does not suspect what trace in the soul of Galya Sonina left death. She is terrified and at the most crucial moment she is betraying herself, and the Germans are killing her.
Fedot Evgrafich takes the Germans to himself, to take them away from Zhenya and Rita. He is wounded in the arm. But he manages to leave and get to the island in the swamp. In the water, he notices Lisa’s skirt and realizes that help will not come. Vaska finds the place where the Germans stayed on vacation, kills one of them and goes to look for the girls. They are preparing to take the last fight. The Germans appear. In an unequal battle, Vaska and girls kill several Germans. Rita is mortally wounded, and while Vaska drags her into a safe place, the Germans kill Zhenya. Rita asks Vaskov to take care of her son and shoots herself in the temple. Vaska is burying Zhenya and Rita. After that, he goes to the forest hut, where the remaining five Germans sleep. One of them Vaska kills on the spot, and takes four prisoners. They themselves link each other with belts, because they do not believe that Vaska “many versts one” . He loses consciousness from pain only when his own, the Russians, are already coming towards him.
Many years later, a gray, stocky old man without a hand and a missile captain, named Albert Fedotych, will bring to the grave of Rita a marble slab.